What if? It's a question we all ask ourselves from time to time, so it's easy to relate to Emily’s dilemma in Jill Santopolo’s Everything After. From the outside, Emily has a perfect life: she's a successful psychologist married to the love of her life and trying to start a family. One day, she hears a song on the radio that triggers memories and old feelings for her college boyfriend and she asks herself, what if? A captivating novel with intertwining love stories, you’ll find yourself rooting for love, both past and present, and maybe considering the power of second chances.
Two loves. Two choices. One chance to follow her dreams.
Emily has come a long way since she lost her two passions fifteen years ago: music, and Rob. She's a psychologist at NYU who helps troubled college students like the one she once was. Together with her caring doctor husband, Ezra, she has a beautiful life. They're happy. They hope to start a family. But when a tragic event in Emily's present too closely echoes her past, and parts of her story that she'd hoped never to share come to light, her perfect life is suddenly upturned. Then Emily hears a song on the radio about the woman who got away. The melody and voice are hauntingly familiar. Could it be? As Emily's past passions come roaring back into her life, she'll find herself asking: Who is she meant to be? Who is she meant to love?
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Maybe this will help.
Maybe I won't think about you anymore.
Dream about you.
Maybe I won't have to keep wondering.
Were you even real?
As she walked down Astor Place toward her office, Emily Gold rested her hand on her abdomen, trying to figure out if it felt different. If there was something new in there, a constellation of cells that would grow as she did, would end up as a tiny person with deep brown eyes like Ezra or wavy auburn hair like her.
Emily hadn't known she wanted a baby until she met Ezra. Then the idea of creating a child with him, of having another person living in this world who had his intelligence, his compassion running through their veins-it seemed like something she would have to do, the way she had to breathe, to blink, to swallow. And once she wanted it, once she knew it had to happen, she became immediately afraid that it wouldn't. That she couldn't. The fact that they'd put it off for a couple of years didn't help-Ezra had wanted to get a promotion first, a raise, an apartment, to make sure they'd be able to give this child everything they possibly could. Now the time was right. They'd been trying for seven months-months of hope and anticipation and disappointment. And now she was late. Only by a day, but still.
Every hour made it feel more real, more possible.
Emily had been walking up the steps to NYU's School of Global Public Health, and turned her head as she swiped her card key through the lock on the front of the building.
"Tessa," she said to the student looking up at her. "It's good to see you. I hadn't realized you were back."
Tessa smiled. Her eyes looked tired, but the grin was genuine. "I've been meaning to come by, but there was a lot to get settled."
"How's the baby?" Emily asked her.
"Zoe," Tessa said. "She's good. Mostly sleeps through the night now, which is awesome. My mom helped out a lot over the summer-Zoe and I went to Ohio while Chris was starting his new job here. But now we're back and it's just me and him and Zo. We've made it through our first week. I found a couple of freshmen who are up for babysitting while I'm at class. So far, so good."
Emily stepped aside so her friend Priya, another psychologist at the mental health center, could walk through the door. "I'm so glad, Tessa," she said. "If you need to talk, you know I'm here. I'm glad things are going well with you and Chris."
Emily didn't trust Chris, not after the way he'd initially reacted, not after the hours Tessa had spent in her office in tears. He'd seemed self-absorbed, not understanding what a pregnancy would mean for Tessa, not fully accepting his part in it. If Emily were Tessa's friend, she would've had some choice words to say about Chris. But as her therapist, she kept her mouth shut and helped Tessa with her side of the relationship, figuring out what she needed and how to communicate that. Something had worked, because Chris had come through in the end.
Tessa smiled again. "I'm glad, too." She laughed. "And happy I ran into you. But now it's time for Statistics for Social Research."
"Oof," Emily said. "You didn't give yourself a break with that one."
Tessa shrugged. "I figure it'll help with law school."
Tessa's dream was to be a human rights lawyer. She wore socks with Ruth Bader Ginsburg's face on them and had spent half a session once telling Emily about Amal Clooney's life story. Emily had enjoyed hearing it.
Two students walked into the building and Emily recognized one of them as her nine a.m.
"I should go," Emily said. "But I'm so glad to see you. Bring Zoe by some time."
Tessa hiked up her backpack. "I will," she said before she turned away.
Emily really hoped Tessa would be okay. When she'd come to the center last year, she'd been so petrified-of being pregnant, of telling her boyfriend, of telling her parents, of what this would mean for her life and her dreams and her future. Emily had helped her through all of it. She'd even gotten permission from the clinic's director to see Tessa as a long-term case. It was why she'd taken this job. She wanted to be there for these kids, the way she wished someone had been there for her, back when she was in college-someone more than her sister, Arielle. Luckily, later she'd found Dr. West, who changed her life and changed her path. She wondered, sometimes, if Dr. West found the job as difficult as she did.
Before heading into her office, Emily filled her mug with herbal tea instead of coffee, something Arielle had said was better for fertility. Though the truth was, it was irrelevant. By this point, either she was already pregnant or she wasn't. She and Ezra had been tracking her cycle since their second wedding anniversary, when they moved into their new place and he was finally ready to start trying. Tracking her cycles together with Ezra was one of the benefits of marrying a doctor-everything about the human body was up for discussion. That was his area of expertise, after all. Hers was the human mind.
She wasn't sure how much longer her mind could take the crushing loss of hope each time her period started again, each time a month passed and the only thing growing inside her was disappointment. Seven months felt like forever. She'd been imagining this child for so long. For two years and seven months, to be exact, since she'd been ready to try right away. Which made each month that she wasn't pregnant even more excruciating. But perhaps this month would be different.
Emily sat down in her office and quickly reviewed her notes for her first patient, her fingers running along the pages as if they were playing scales on a piano. So many years later, she still couldn't shake the habit. She closed her notebook and let her hand stray to her abdomen again. If there was a baby in there, its brain was only starting to develop, not actually a real brain yet. Forty to forty-three days-that was when brain activity first sparked.
Kai walked into her office and sat down on the couch, holding one of the granola bars they always put out in the reception area. Free food, both to lure college students in and to help take care of them when they weren't caring for themselves. He looked over at the aquarium.
Emily had discovered years ago that watching fish swim seemed to relax people, or maybe it was the quiet burbling of the filter. Either way, her patients seemed to like it. And it gave them something to talk about when they were working up to what was really troubling them. It gave her something to look at, too, when she wasn't sure if she'd be able to hold it together, wasn't sure if she could be the anchor they needed her to be.
She quickly glanced at the framed quote on her desk. John Wesley: "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."
Then she cleared everything else from her mind as she focused on her patient. She wasn't going to let him down.
When I met your father, the first thing I noticed about him was his smile.
It appeared, slow and easy, across his face when he saw me walking toward him.
We were in a folk music club in the basement of an old church, the spring of my sophomore year. He offered me his chair and a beer. I offered to share the cup of popcorn I'd snagged on my way in.
We listened to a woman with a smoky voice sing about a crystal castle she'd build in the sky.
He called me his crystal queen.
After Kai left, Emily heard a knock on her office door while she was writing up notes. Three staccato raps. She knew those raps; they meant: "I. Love. You." Ezra had been knocking on her door like that for the last four and a half years; it began soon after they started dating, soon after she got her job at NYU, a few months before her twenty-ninth birthday. Originally, he'd said it meant, "Em-il-y," but that changed three months in. It became, "I. Love. You." A love that had only grown from there.
He knocked again.
Emily opened the door, and her worries about her patients, about whether she was pregnant, disappeared when she saw his face.
"Hey, love," he said, as he stepped into her office and took her into his arms. She lifted her face up for a kiss, and he brought his lips to hers.
"You feel so good," she told him, once they stopped kissing, when she leaned her head against his shoulder.
He smelled faintly of soap and cologne. She brought her finger up to his name, embroidered on the left side of his button-down, right above his heart, the letters that spelled Dr. Ezra Gold. A gift from his doctor parents when he completed residency, and a favorite of his.
"What happened?" she asked.
He taught one class a week in bioethics during NYU's spring semester, and otherwise practiced medicine at NYU's children's hospital, a mile and a half away, specializing in pediatric blood cancers. He and Emily had started working at NYU the same year, even though Ezra was four years older. His job needed more training than hers did. But he never quite got trained in how to handle when he was feeling overwhelmed by what he was facing, what his patients were facing. He had to figure out how to deal with that on his own. Sometimes he needed to leave the hospital, to jump in a cab for the nine-minute ride to Emily's office. Sometimes he needed a kiss to get through the rest of the day. Sometimes he needed to tell her what happened. Other times she had to be a detective, trying to figure out why he was so silent at home, what had hurt him so deeply.
"It hasn't been the best morning," he said, holding her tighter. "But better now that I'm here with you."
"Good," she told him, wondering if today was a day she'd have to dig, if he would let her in or push her away.
When they spoke for the very first time, in the elevator in the Global Public Health building, Emily had been surprised that Ezra noticed her. She'd seen him around-in the hallways, walking from the subway-and he always seemed absorbed in thought, as if the only world that existed was the one in his head. He wore round tortoiseshell glasses, which added to the sense that he was somehow separated from the world, looking at it through a window. And he kept to himself. Only a handful of people on the faculty knew anything about him other than his name.
Once they got together, Emily realized that Ezra's studious appearance, his quiet reserve, masked the heart of a doctor who felt deeply for his patients and their families, and who was always thinking about what he could do to make their lives easier, how he could practice medicine more ethically, not just to make their health outcomes better but their quality of life, too. He tried, tirelessly, to find trials his patients could be part of to improve their outcomes.
"Your husband is an angel," his patients' parents would tell her when she went to the hospital to pick him up at the end of a long day. She thought so, too-though those parents never saw the toll the job took on him. The nights he stayed awake staring at the ceiling afraid of the dreams that might come, the hours he spent inside his own head, unable to find the words to express how he felt. The worst was when one of his patients died, and he spiraled into self-doubt and silence. Sometimes for days.
"Don't dwell on failure," Emily had heard Ezra's father tell him when he felt that way. "Just learn from it." A sentiment that Ezra seemed to have internalized, like he did so many of his parents' beliefs.
What she told him, though, was that a death wasn't his failure. It was the world acting out its plans. He wasn't a god. He couldn't fend off the inevitable forever. But Ezra didn't see it that way. Emily wondered if it was easier to believe it was all in his power. It made failure harder, but it made everything else more meaningful.
ÒWant to talk about it?Ó she asked him, lifting her cheek off his shoulder.
Ezra shook his head, his wavy brown hair falling in front of his glasses. It somehow always seemed like it needed a trim. "I'd rather not," he said.
"You don't have to," she told him, brushing his hair out of his eyes, knowing he'd tell eventually, when he was ready.
It might take hours, days, sometimes even weeks, but she knew how to give him his space when he needed it. And she could usually comfort him when he was finally ready to talk. She could read people like she could read music, feeling the emotion between the notes, the way to tease the meaning from the melody with her fingers. She wondered, sometimes, if Ezra'd had to marry a therapist, if someone who hadn't been trained in psychology could've made a relationship work with him.
"Thank you," he said, and kissed her again.
"How about I come get you at the end of the day?" she asked. "Maybe we can walk home? Stop for dinner on the way?"
"Lady's choice," he told her. "I love you."
"I love you, too." She wove her fingers through his. "You have to head back now?"
"Now that I'm fortified, I'll be able to handle it all."
"Good." She knew this wouldn't be the end of it, but it was what he needed now, and she was happy to give it to him.
They kissed one last time, and Ezra left Emily's office. She stood at her second-floor window to watch him appear below her on Broadway, hailing a yellow cab amid the traffic and jumping inside. Sometimes she still couldn't believe that she and Ezra were married-that this beautiful, brilliant, broken man brought her more happiness than she'd felt in more than a decade. It made her strive to be better, to make sure she was a woman worthy of a man like that.